THE YESHIVA: Volume II by Chaim Grade


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This second volume of a major Yiddish work (Vol. I was published in 1976) continues Grade's coolly crafted re-creation of a vanished society (Lithuanian Jewish towns after World War I) whose inhabitants--yeshiva students, teachers, congregants, townsfolk--either settle for simply living life or ache for something more. Grade reins in compassion as well as irony, so that the gloomy protagonist, Tsemakh Atlas, avatar of the ""Navaredok"" school--a religious movement for scouring the soul to ethical purity--becomes a clear, disturbing incarnation of spiritual desolation. Is Tsemakh, who examines his every thought and deed for holy intent and who will not tolerate any less from others, an incipient saint or (as one of his students put it) simply an ""adventurer. . . who runs around like a cyclone establishing new yeshivas""? He refuses to return to his handsome, intelligent wife and takes on the role of a ""penitent,"" literally rolling in the mud in expiation for what he considers his sin in causing the death of his first fiancÉe. While Tsemakh flagellates his soul, his students scatter in doubt, even hatred and depression: "". . . the fleshy, this-world street lives in you. But sooner or later the Torah of Navaredok will settle into your bones and your life."" Around and beside Tsemakh the townsfolk and isolated student element jostle and cluster in flaming rhetoric, gossip, dramas of mass conscience, and even a high comedic battle with thwacking of heavy Torahs. Finally Tsemakh, on the advice of the truly spiritual rabbi Avraham-Shaye, turns to the secular life where one might be great, but ""his greatness is a secret between himself and the Master of the Universe."" A fine, rich novel of moral reach, but not for those looking for the haimische--this is difficult and demanding. With an introduction by translator Leviant, whose recent novel, The Yemenite Girl, has met with considerable critical success.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill